Most Americans think of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) only as an external threat. But as demonstrated by the recent arrest of a Chinese spy based in Boston, the Chinese communists also operate on U.S. soil.
The Boston case is hardly an exception. Last month, the Department of Justice indicted two New York residents, Lu Jianwang and Chen Jinping, for “conspiring to act as agents” of the CCP’s Ministry of Public Security (MPS) and for obstructing justice by destroying evidence of their communications with the MPS. The two were operating an MPS secret police station in Manhattan’s Chinatown neighborhood, which was aiding the CCP’s transnational repression by intimidating and threatening Chinese dissidents.
According to one assessment, at least 102 known or suspected Chinese overseas police stations are currently active in 53 countries. The real number is undoubtedly higher. In the U.S., stations have been identified in New York City, Los Angeles, Houston and San Francisco, as well as smaller cities in Nebraska and Minnesota.
In 2014, with minimal regard for the sovereignty of other countries, the CCP launched “Operation Fox Hunt,” to repatriate overseas Chinese fugitives whom it deems to be corrupt officials. Within its first six months, 680 fugitives were reportedly returned to China.
In 2015, Operation Sky Net was established as a parallel program to apprehend overseas Chinese dissents accused of financial crimes. The tactics deployed in these operations vary from detaining family members back in China to outright kidnappings abroad.
Since 2014, Chinese police reportedly made some 10,000 Chinese fugitives abroad return to China. This shows that the CCP doesn’t recognize international borders and brazenly violates the sovereignty of the U.S. and other countries by sending police officers far outside their jurisdiction.
The CCP will target those it wishes to oppress, particularly the Chinese diaspora population, whom they surveil and harass in violation of the laws of the countries where they conduct these activities. If they feel empowered enough to open secret police stations in New York City, you can imagine what they’re doing in Brussels, Canberra, New Delhi and virtually any major city with a sizable Chinese population.
This case began in the fall of 2022, when the FBI raided the the Manhattan outpost and seized materials, marking the first public raid of its kind. That November, the FBI director testified that the U.S. had been aware of the New York police station’s operations since February 2022. Assistant Attorney General Matthew G. Olsen has since testified that China’s actions “go far beyond the bounds of acceptable nation-state conduct.”
President Biden and Secretary of State Antony Blinken should demand that Beijing shut down all other illegal police stations in the U.S. immediately. When the German government made the same request for secret police stations to be removed from its cities, the CCP refused to comply. The administration should assume the CCP will be similarly non-compliant and impose punitive measures in response.
Second, Attorney General Merrick Garland should immediately reinstate the Department of Justice’s China Initiative. The Biden administration shut down the Trump-era program set up to focus on countering Chinese espionage and prioritize threats from the CCP because of what they viewed as “allegations of intolerance and bias.” In many ways, it had the opposite effect: The scaling back of such efforts only hurt Chinese citizens and Chinese Americans being harassed and targeted by the CCP.
The FBI and law enforcement agencies should speak out publicly and highlight the CCP’s actions against those it seeks to oppress in the U.S. Additionally, they need to develop and provide educational resources on constitutional rights for communities that the CCP targets. In a step in the right direction, the FBI has created a website, and an anonymous tip hotline is under development to report suspicious activity of foreign governments monitoring or threatening people in the U.S.
As the U.S. inches deeper into a new cold war with China, a crackdown on illegal Chinese police stations operating in the U.S. must be an urgent priority. That they have been allowed to operate in multiple U.S. cities offers yet another example of the U.S. government’s negligence.
This piece originally appeared in The Hill on 5/18/2023